The Key to Productive Relationships: Honoring Separate Realities

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Think about the last argument you had with a colleague or
even a loved one. Chances are, it was because you saw, experienced, or truly
believed something that was different from the other person. Most
confrontations, arguments, break ups, and irritations stem from seeing things
differently from others.

Many of this day-to-day irritation, anger, blame, and
self-righteousness can be avoided by a simple concept called Honoring Our
Separate Realities. A lot of needless conflicts can be avoided and time saved
if we just remember certain truths about life:

 Things are not always the way they appear to

– Others inevitably see things differently

– Our views and judgments are shaped by our
backgrounds and experiences, as are the views and judgments of others

– It’s generally impossible to say who is
“right” or “wrong” when matters of opinion and perspective are involved.

Everyone lives in a separate reality – and the only
reasonable thing we can do as mature individuals is to respect those realities.
If we don’t respect other’s realities, we risk living on the judgmental/blaming
floor on the Mood Elevator* — in this stage you will be much more
argumentative, irritable, and angry.
 In addition, if you truly believe you are right and
others are wrong all the time you will experience much less growth and learning
because you believe you have all the answers and won’t be open to new ideas. This
stagnates your personal growth as a leader.

How do
we honor other’s realities?

As with most things, the first thing is to be aware that
every person sees the world through their own set of glasses and their
viewpoint has been determined by their beliefs, and professional and personal experiences.
What they see is what they see. It’s not right or wrong; it is what it is.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t eventually have a
conversation with them to understand how they see things, but the conversation
will go much smoother if you first understand that what they see may be very
different from what you see and that’s OK.

The next step is to pause when we hear a colleague saying
something we disagree with.

Then ask yourself the following questions

What is
their thinking? Why do they see it differently?

– How has
their background, their experiences, or their education shaped their worldview
so that they perceive something I don’t perceive?

These questions shouldn’t focus on who is right or who is
wrong. These questions serve to open your mind to understanding how that person
sees the world. It also expands your perspective to new  information, perspectives, and even
relationships, if you allow yourself to try to see something from a different

Another way to honor others’ realities is by being
conscientious of how you communicate with others. If you make it clear that
what you are saying reflects your personal point of view rather than implying
to others you know the absolute truth, you’ll come off as less dogmatic and
certain. Use phrases like:

– It appears to me….

– The way I see it…

From my point of view…

– I think…(versus I know)

– If I’m not mistaken…

– I may be wrong, but…

By taking the time to listen and communicate in a way
that will help guide you to honor other’s realities you will experience more
time up The Mood Elevator. As with many pointers out of my book, use your
feelings as your guide.

When we are overly certain about our opinions and ideas –
being too bossy, in some ways – we tend to experience such feelings as
defensiveness, judgment, self-righteousness, and impatience with others. As a
leader, it helps to become acquainted with these emotions and learn to
recognize them when they pop up. They are signs that you have stopped listening
and learning, and instead are shutting out people and possibilities. When this
happens, stop talking, sit back, take a deep breath, and try to shift to a mood
of curiosity and interest.

* The
Mood Elevator is a concept and awareness tool Senn Delaney uses to describe our
moment-to-moment experience of life. It encompasses a wide range of feelings
and together, these emotions play a major role in defining the quality of our
lives as well as our effectiveness.

Dr. Larry Senn pioneered the field of corporate
culture and founded in 1978, Senn Delaney, the culture shaping unit of Heidrick
& Struggles. A sought-after speaker, Senn has authored or co-authored
several books, including two best-sellers. His newest is The
Mood Elevator
, the follow up to his 2012 book, Up the Mood Elevator. You
can learn more About Larry and his work at his website,